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Oscar nominee finds joyous big-screen home in 'Nebraska'

Published On: Feb 25 2014 08:16:59 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 25 2014 08:21:24 PM CST
June Squibb in 'Nebraska' Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

June Squibb in "Nebraska."

No matter what becomes of her nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 86th annual Academy Awards this Sunday, "Nebraska" star June Squibb says she feels like a winner already.

After all, Squibb, 84, is still working hard in a career she's so dearly loved her entire life, whether it's been in film, stage or television. "It is like winning an award, especially when you're working on a film like 'Nebraska,' which was such a joy to shoot," Squibb told me in a recent interview. "Working with (director) Alexander Payne and the cast was phenomenal. It was such a joy to do the actual work day after day."

That's not to say Squibb isn't enjoying all the awards hoopla that goes with being nominated for an Oscar. In fact, several of her colleagues are also partaking in the festivities, since the film is also up for Best Picture (producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa), Best Actor (Dern), Best Director (Payne), Best Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson) and Best Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael).

"I think we all sensed something special about the film when we were making it, but I don't think any of us dreamt about being a part of awards season," Squibb said.. "We all felt something, judging the reaction on set, from Alexander, and the cast and the crew."

New on DVD and Blu-ray (Paramount Home Media Distribution) Tuesday, "Nebraska" follows Wood Grant, (Bruce Dern), cantankerous, booze-addled retiree who embarks on a road trip with his son (Will Forte) to claim what he believes is a $1 million sweepstakes prize. Squibb plays Kate Grant, Woody's long-suffering wife.

Kate is a refreshingly blunt character, and without question her saucy remarks provide the film's biggest laughs. Chief among them is a scene in a cemetery that she filmed with Dern and Forte, where Kate wasn't afraid to speak ill of the dead.

The kicker of the role, Squibb said, is that Payne asked her to shoot the highly touted scene -- which ends with her raising her skirt at a deceased would-be lover -- the first day of the production. "I was actually yelling , 'Alexander! This is hard to start with this,'" Squibb recalled with a laugh.

"Your first day on set, no matter how much you've done, is always a little dicey. You're starting something new and it's hard, but Alexander, of course, said, 'No, we're doing it and it'll be fine, and it was. It was fun." Squibb, who previously worked with Payne before (playing Jack Nicholson's wife in "About Schmidt"), said once the first-day jitters were calmed, she reveled in the fact that she had another opportunity to play in the director's unique, cinematic world.

"When I read the Bob Nelson's script, I just couldn't believe what I was seeing from page to page," Squibb said. "It was so real. Both he and Alexander took chances with that cemetery scene and pushed these characters. But it was still a joy to do."

It doesn't take no more than a minute into a conversation with Squibb to realize that she's one of the sweetest actors you could ever hope to interview. In fact, that sweetness was a detriment to Squibb before she was cast in the film by Payne because he didn't think the actress could play ornery.

"It was a problem because Alexander thought I was that sweet lady I played in 'About Schmidt' and didn't even think of me for this part. I really felt that he didn't think I'd be right for it," Squibb recalled. "I don't know what it was that made him change his mind and he never told me. When he asked to see me, I was in New York, so I taped two scenes for him and that was it."

Orneriness aside, Squibb thinks part of her lives within the character of Kate.

"There are facets of my personality in Kate because I understood who she was when I first read the script," Squibb explained. "I think because the character is from the Midwest and I'm from Illinois. Also, (like the film,) there's some pretty crazy people in my family so I recognized who this woman was."

In the end, Squibb felt Payne found what he was looking for in the characters and the story: reality.

"Reality is what he wants above all," Squibb said. "It's what he has to have."

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